Like many others, on January 1 2020, we had grand plans. It was going to be a big year for She+ Geeks Out. We were scaling up and doubling down on our commitment to abolishing inequity in the workplace.
Not that anyone needs a reminder, but in March COVID hit, and it hit hard. As a services-based organization that focused on in-person experiences almost entirely, we had to (along with so many others) react in real-time. At the same time, we were ourselves trying to keep up and understand this new and ever-changing landscape.
Our community sponsors understandably wanted to pause or outright cancel their events. Some weren’t sure about supporting virtual events and others were no longer in a position where they could hire. Our community members were affected by sweeping layoffs as well. On the corporate training side of our organization, we saw clients effectively putting all of their DEI efforts on hold. Many companies were also unsure about virtual workshop offerings and others were simply focused on keeping their business afloat.
We found ourselves having to pivot and be innovative in ways that we haven’t had to be since the very early days of SGO (and even then, we’ve never had the stakes be so high). We had to look for new solutions, think on our feet, scale back our plans, and unfortunately even let people go. In those same early days and weeks, we also had to support our community and our team– while we were engaged in some of the most difficult conversations and brainstorming we’d ever had to have– as we worked to try to figure out how we would survive as a business.
Then on May 25th, George Floyd was murdered … the latest in a string of murders by police who were held unaccountable for their actions. To be clear, George Floyd did nothing wrong, but was murdered for being a Black man. The exact same day, Amy Cooper was videotaped threatening a Black man that she was going to call the police on him. To be clear, there was no threat to her. This was a white woman in New York City who chose to endanger an innocent man simply because she could. Amy Cooper unveiled her racism and casual misuse of power in a stunning display of privilege in effect.
These two incidents combined lit a fire for people around the world. Systemic racism and oppression are real, but many found themselves only realizing these facts this spring. We saw what happened when activists, communities, and many people who have never protested before came together to protest and speak out. Black Lives Matter was yet again at the forefront of a movement to wake people up to oppression and disadvantage. While this was not the first time that we’ve seen violence, protesting, and efforts for change, this time it felt different. Perhaps it was because millions of people were sitting at home, out of work, disenfranchised and suddenly more able to see the literal effects of oppression all around them. Perhaps this was merely the moment in time that served as the straw that broke the camel’s back. Perhaps it was the culmination of many varied factors and efforts.
All of a sudden, we, and our colleagues, found ourselves back in demand and very busy. Companies quickly found the time, the will, and the financial resources to pay experts to not just help them understand concepts like diversity, equity, and inclusion, but to also discuss concepts like ‘white supremacy’ and ‘anti-racism’. Whereas in previous years more companies were looking for a ‘one and done’ or ‘check-the-box’ solution, we started to see a notable increase in organizations asking us for long-term sustained programming, deeper conversations, and process change. Our attention switched from survival mode to scaling resources in order to meet this increased demand. We felt an obligation to help as many organizations as we could have these difficult and important conversations. We’ve always emphasized the importance of meeting people where they’re at. This spring and summer, we found many organizations were finally ready to have these conversations.
On the community side, we continued to hold virtual events throughout the year, but attendance numbers began to dwindle as video fatigue set in. This doesn’t mean that the importance of supporting women and other marginalized genders and connecting with our community has decreased, but we’ve seen that throughout the past 10 months women and other marginalized genders have continued to get hammered by the impacts of COVID, and are now set back a solid decade in our progress. One in FOUR women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce indefinitely due to COVID. Our community is looking for support, but they’re struggling to find the time and will to get it. The struggle is real.
Fast forward to September– in the midst of everything else that was going on, we rebranded to ‘She+ Votes Out’, focusing our efforts on getting out the vote for the 2020 presidential election. We wanted to do everything we could to remove the toxic, fear-mongering, hateful, and petty leader of the United States. We shared resources, held a virtual VP Debate Watch party (we see you Kamala!) and wrote letters. We used what voice we had to move as many people as we could. And our work paid off. In Kamala Harris we have our first woman Vice President, our first Black Vice President, our first Indian-American Vice President, and let’s be real, our first sassy Vice President. And, Dr. Jill Biden, the First Lady-elect and an educator, will be the first First Lady to hold a paid job outside the White House. Here’s to a renewed sense of hope.
To be clear, we are under no illusions. This new administration will not fix all our problems. And Biden and Harris are themselves not perfect (who is?). But we will have an administration that doesn’t shy away from its past no matter how scary it might be. We will have an administration that believes in science and facts. We will have an administration and cabinet more reflective and representative of our country’s demographics. And we will have an administration that acknowledges the existence of systemic racism, instead of trying to white-wash it. It’s such a low bar, but we know how much worse off we could be.
One thing has been made abundantly clear during this last election: we are a truly divided country. Slightly less than half of the votes went to someone who is very comfortable expressing their hatred of the Other and will do literally anything to win at ALL costs. Half of Republicans believe that the election was stolen, and many in positions of power are willing to go along with this power grab for reasons we can only surmise. We are divided not only by ideas, but by fundamental concepts of logic and facts. There is no ability to reason with those who are willing to deny what they are witnessing in order to ensure that their own world view remains intact. Many have written about this, so we don’t need to cover that ground again, but it is worth noting this:
Our work was never intended to change minds. We don’t believe that’s the real work. Our goal is to educate those who do see bias, discrimination, and inequity in the workplace, as real issues and want to do something about it. We want to give those who are open to this work the skills to have challenging conversations and the tools to mitigate bias in hiring, promoting, and simply working alongside those who are different from ourselves.
Attempting to sway people to ‘our side’ of thinking is a wonderful idea, but impractical when the ‘other side’ is doing the same. Here’s what happens in that scenario: we dig in and focus on the wrongs of the Other rather than considering what we can do and learn ourselves. Here’s a fantastic way to think about it. The Backfire Effect is quite real unfortunately. We’ve got huge communication issues in our country and we truly hope that the new administration addresses them in what we hope is a sea change as opposed to a moment in time.
So, where does that leave us, She+ Geeks Out, at the close of 2020? We’ve doubled down on our mission to abolish inequity in the workplace and in the world. We’ve worked with and will continue to work with organizations from all over the world to hold space for important conversations. We are maintaining a virtual space for our community members to connect and share with each other. We have transitioned to operating as a remote-first company, and will continue to hold all our offerings virtually until such time we’re able to safely gather together in person again. Amazingly, we’re even growing! We’re not sure what 2021 will bring (if there’s anything out of all the lessons 2020 has taught us, it’s to expect the unexpected), but we will rest and reflect and take on whatever new challenges and opportunities come our way, as best we can. In the meantime, stay with us– we are stronger together.